From the Balcony
by Ropafadzo Mugadza. Ropa writes of her childhood friend and coming of age in Zimbabwe. Photography by Dari Depriakhi.
ZBC was the only channel that was left on Zimbabwean television, unless you could pay for cable. All day long they played propaganda. Most of the adverts used this melancholy song that had a woman wailing and snivelling hoarse vocals in ritualistic cries. I would have to listen to that song day in and day out. Every evening it would play while I was sat on the balcony and when it did I would enter a dissociative state where I couldn’t connect to any reality. That song became the soundtrack to life.
I stopped playing outside. I had somehow lost the ability to suspend my disbelief and throw myself into fantasies and games. The innocence of childhood was gone. Most days I just sat on my balcony and looked out at the streets. Unlike me, my best friend Stanley was out playing at every possible moment. He never wanted to be inside the house. He was an orphan who had been taken in by relatives. He lived with a couple and their son. It was no secret to anyone around the flats that Stanley was mistreated. You’d see him early on cold mornings bruised as he washed the family car. And even still, I had not met anyone who was as cheerful and fun as him. Often, he was able to reach into my darkest moods and pull me out. But on those cold mornings as he sobbed and washed the car, it felt as if he was so deep into an empty place that I couldn’t reach him. I watched him every morning but I never said anything. Every day I told myself I would, but the words would cling to my throat. I had no words to offer him. Soon he stopped coming out altogether. From the balcony, I could see all the other children playing still but I never felt the need to join them. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.
My mother always said hearing owls in the morning was a bad omen. But seeing them was even worse. It wasn’t something I often remembered even when I did see or hear them in the mornings. However, this time around, as I stared at the owl perched right outside my window, a sinking feeling settled into my stomach as I recalled my mother’s words. The lava irises of its eyes were stark against its charcoal pupils. It stared through me, unblinking with its remorseless glare. I sat on the balcony the whole day looking out at the world. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. Time passed and still everything carried on in the same tune. Later, I got news that Stanley had died. The story was that he and his family had been in a car accident. He had lost his life and somehow the other three had come out without a scratch. I wanted to mourn him enough for all the people who didn’t care about him. But just like everyone else who had known and loved Stanley I couldn’t cry. Stanley was just another dead little boy.
Sometimes, while I was sat on the balcony, I would watch the children play and think about how life had moved on so seamlessly without Stanley. They were carefree and animated just as I had once been. I wondered if they still thought about me or if they even remembered me. I wondered why it was that I could never find the desire in me to join them. Every day I would sit on the balcony looking out at the world. Waiting for the day when I didn’t feel like just a spectator. Waiting, because I still had hope.